Discover the Sweet Spot of Success Learn Where to Experience Peace and Joy, No Matter What
Leah was a woman ahead of her time. As a social worker, she assisted lawyers, physicians, and women in crisis pregnancies.In her spare time, she operated the County Home, or orphanage,where she poured her life and love into abused and abandoned children who were sent to her for refuge.
One balmy August day, Leah was delivering a baby to new adoptive parents. However, this wasn't any ordinary adoption. This was the adoption of her first granddaughter by her son, Mike, and daughter-in-law, Retha, who had suffered from infertility for years. The homecoming of this baby was a new beginning for them.
Leah pulled into the gravel driveway in her big black Buick, washed by the children at the orphanage for this event. With her heart pounding and hot tears streaming down her cheeks, Leah whispered to the sleeping newborn on the front seat next to her, "Here we are, sweetheart. You're going to meet your new mommy and daddy. They already love you so much and have been waiting for you for years."
Grabbing her linen handkerchief from her patent leather purse, she tried to stop her tears, which dripped freely onto the baby's tiny face. As she nestled her granddaughter close to her bountiful bosom, she smoothed the satin-lined pink blanket around the baby's body. Then, in her tie-up grandma shoes, she tiptoed up the steps of the bungalow house, with the glee of a child who has just received a present she can't wait to share.
Opening the squeaky door to the screened-in porch, Leah proceeded to peek through the three little windows of the front door to see Retha and Mike rushing to meet her. With shaking hands, Mike reached out to hold their new daughter. "She's so tiny . . . I can hold her in the palm of one hand!" Mike exclaimed. Retha gently placed her hand beneath Mike's to steady his grip. When she could wait no longer, she said, "Now I want to hold her." Suddenly, the baby arched her back and began crying. Retha's body tensed and she wondered if she was doing something wrong. Maybe the baby didn't like her. Maybe she wasn't cut out to be a mom. She pulled the baby closer and the baby screamed louder, refusing her touch. Nervously, she handed the baby back to Leah.
Fast on the heels of the fearful thoughts about the baby rejecting her was haunting guilt. Retha asked herself how she could entertain such thoughts about this baby they had longed for. Where did those feelings come from? Neither Mike nor Retha realized that they had a secret parental need—to know that their child loved them.
They also had no idea about the challenges that this innocent baby would bring into their lives, but they were determined to do this parenting thing right. They wanted to succeed in meeting the needs of this tiny one.
We Couldn't Understand Some of Her Behaviors
As a baby, their daughter did things they didn't understand and they had no idea how to handle the behaviors. They didn't know any other parents with adopted kids, so they had no one to ask if her unusual actions were normal for an adopted child.
When they tried to cuddle their baby, her body went stiff. She refused to eat. When they put her into her crib, she aggressively rocked on her knees. The motion moved the crib around the room so they never knew where they might find it the next morning.
As a young child, she seemed clumsy and banged her head against every chair and car seat she sat in. And what a temper! What should they do with a raging child, kicking on the living room floor? Was it best to put her out on the back porch to settle down?
Then there was the day that she scratched "I love you" messages on their fine bedroom furniture. Should they be happy about that? Their daughter's learning ability seemed below normal, despite the tutors Retha hired.
Retha wept after the frequent shouting matches with her teenage daughter. Why was she the brunt of her anger? She sat up into the wee hours of the morning, waiting for her daughter to return from high school dates.
Why did her daughter prefer Mike? Why did she try to separate Retha from Mike by making Retha look bad in his eyes? Retha and Mike both were trying so hard.
Our Daughter Started Making Unhealthy Choices
In time, Retha and Mike's parental confidence grew, and their daughter seemed to respond in somewhat healthy ways to their teaching—at least sporadically. She was about to finish college and was madly in love with a young man whom they would have chosen themselves as a husband for her.
Then one rainy September evening, their daughter, barely twenty years old, came through the front door of their home; the same door her grandmother had carried her through as a baby. This time, her boyfriend entered close behind her. He held her as she choked out the news no parent of a barely twenty-year-old daughter ever wants to hear. She was pregnant.
Retha embraced both of them as her daughter sobbed. Mike rushed out of the room, ashamed of his tears. This daughter was his beloved child; the daughter he once held in the palm of one hand; the daughter he proudly watched ride on the parade float as her high school class representative; the daughter he dreamed of escorting down the aisle of his church as a radiant bride in a beautiful white dress.
Our Hearts Ached
That night, Retha and Mike lay side by side, talking about how they had failed their daughter. Their dreams for her seemed to wilt like beautiful roses stricken by an unexpected frost.
But thirty-seven years later, after they had passed away and their daughter had grown up, Retha and Mike were declared successful parents.
How could this be? Who could say that they were successful after so many challenges and heartbreaking experiences? The most qualified judge of their success was the baby who was carried into their home on August 4, 1945. That baby was me. After six decades of life, I know that my mom and dad were incredibly successful.
If they were still alive, I would give them a blue ribbon with these words printed in gold leaf: "Mike and Retha Cook, Successful Adoptive Parents."
Your Need to Succeed as a Parent
This book is about your success in raising your adopted child.
You may be asking yourselves what it means to be successful as an adoptive parent. On many days, you may look around for proof of success and not be able to see any positive results of your efforts.
What if your child spins out of control? What if he has uncontrollable temper tantrums? What if she is diagnosed with bipolar disorder? What if your child can never love you back? What if she's hooked on drugs or runs away from home? What if he stole everything precious to you and pawned it off for drug money? What if you had to place her in an institutionalized setting because she was suicidal? Would these things mean that you failed as a parent?
Success may feel unattainable, like a chinning bar that's raised with every trial you face. Even if you do get through the trials with your child and everyone in your life considers you successful, you may still have nagging doubts or feel empty inside.
Trials don't make you unsuccessful; it's how you handle them. You long to meet the needs of your child, to offer him your utmost. This is the cry of your heart. You want to know that you are a success as a parent. It's okay to admit that need.
Yet this need is unmet for many of you. It can be downright tough parenting an adopted child in a predominately nonadoptive world. You face parenting with an extra layer of challenges that the nonadopted world likely will never comprehend: your child's abandonment and attachment issues, unresolved grief, loss of the birth family and foster family, missing or painful birth histories . . . all occurring before your child came to live permanently with you.
You know this to be true, yet when you talk to people in the nonadopted world about the realities, they don't get it. Most of them never will. That's why you need one another. Your fellow parents walk the same path and they understand. You will hear their voices throughout the pages of this book, so take heart.
Redefining Success, Adoption-Style
Success Doesn't Depend on Your Child's Choices Nancy Spoolstra is the director of the Reactive Attachment Disorder Network in Gurnee, Illinois, and the mother of five children, two through birth and three through adoption. In a 2008 phone interview, she shared a great definition of parenting success:
Success for adoptive parents is keeping your kids safe for the real world, teaching them how to make good choices, and how to have reciprocal relationships, remembering always that we have no control over how the child will use the information we give them as parents.
Your child's positive, negative, or passive response to all of your input doesn't indicate success. Isn't that a relief ? All adopted people ultimately make choices and must live with the consequences of those choices, even though you are constantly cheering them on with unconditional love.
One mom says her adult son loves them but doesn't feel a sense of belonging in their family. Most of the time, she perceives that he feels like an outsider in his own home. It breaks their hearts. They love him unconditionally and do their best to help him, but he refuses to accept their help. In spite of their child's lack of response, these are successful parents. To their credit, they do not equate their success with their child's choices. They are doing everything possible and that's all you can do. It is what it is. It would be nice if we could control our children's responses, turning them in a positive direction. However, life just doesn't work that way.
Parenting Success, Adoption-Style
• To work through my personal issues thoroughly, in order to hear the heart needs of my child.
• To identify with my child on his emotional level and to mirror acceptance.
• To accept and nurture the nature created within my child's first home, the birth mother's womb.
• To learn and accept the complex realities of adoption as our unique life challenge—not trying to change the challenges into what the nonadoptive world expects.
• To base love and acceptance of my child on his personhood, not his performance.
Success Is Determined by Your Willingness to Stay by Your Child's Side
Sometimes parents have to continually renew their commitment to care for their children—especially when their children are too hurt to express love back.
One foster mom says, "The miracle of our family is sticking by their side when they want to get as far away from you as possible.
It's recognizing the honest feelings of pain that our kids have. My love as a mom is one of commitment—one that doesn't quit even when they want to."
The child that one foster family adopted was born with serious physical problems. No one wanted to tell them about the potential issues they faced. Their doctor and friends didn't know how to respond and everyone looked the other way. When the parents brought their child home, no one congratulated them. There were no gifts, no cards. Silently, and sometimes to their faces, people asked why they just didn't institutionalize him. In spite of all these obstacles, this mom is proud of her child. I know many of you who have stayed by your child's side, even to the point of adopting and raising your unmarried teen or adult child's baby (or babies). Whenever I hear your stories, I continue to be amazed by your commitment.
Learning the Message of the Sweet Spot of Success
Recently I was introduced to the term "sweet spot of success."
It's not eating something sweet, like a quart of rocky-road ice cream, and being successful by not gaining a pound. The sweet spot is a sports term and usually refers to an unseen place on a tennis racket or a baseball bat. If you hit the ball from that spot, it will go farther than from any other place on the racket or bat.
What does the sweet spot have to do with parenting an adopted child? I believe you'll understand when you hear this mom's experience.
Alice was mothering three teenage adopted children who have never responded to her lavish love, despite the depth of investment made in their lives. She told me that she felt hopeless, fearing that she might never hear the words "I love you" from her children.
At that moment, a picture flashed into my imagination. I saw her peering into a huge, dark crevice of a mountain, straining to see something. What was she looking for? She was in essence saying, "Where's the sweet spot? Is it there? I can't see it. I can't see anything but darkness."
In contrast, I saw myself as an adopted person, standing inside the crevice. Because of living six decades as an adopted person, it wasn't dark there to me. I realized that I had a gift I could give to this discouraged mom. I could tell her what was inside the mountain's crevice. It was the sweet spot, her child's heart, invisible to her, yet clear to me as an adopted person. I could see every crevice, nook, and cranny of her child's heart and the heart language they contained. From the inside of the mountain, I called out to her: "In the deepest crevice of your child's heart, she loves you. You may never see that love manifested, but it's there. Your child is either too wounded or too rebellious to tell you."
During the ensuing silence, I feared I had said something inappropriate. Suddenly, uncontrollable sobbing broke the silence and the mother choked out these words: "Do you really think so? Do you really think my children love me?"
I gave her assurances and then realized I had hit the core need of an adoptive parent's heart—to know that your child loves you. That is the sweet spot and the place from which you must parent. Remembering this, you will be a more effective parent, and you'll be able to keep your emotional balance when your child is struggling.
As an adopted person reflecting back on years that I didn't return my parents' love, I plead with you to never entertain thoughts that your children don't love you. Rather, focus on the truth that their love may be buried deeply beneath their pain.
How do I know? I've been rebellious and have also met many adopted people with similar experiences. Why? We're hurting. Yet in our hearts, we love our parents.
I'm not excusing hurtful behavior but am pulling back the scab so you can see the wound beneath that may be prompting the dysfunctional behavior.
Finding the Sweet Spot of Success for Your Family
The message of the sweet spot is your anchor now, no matter what circumstances are whirling around you. But how can you enter the sweet spot with your child? How can you take your family there?
It's the Place of Seeking and Speaking Truth
Living in the sweet spot means that you speak the truth no matter how uncomfortable you may feel. Truth must be the defining principle for each person in your family. First, you must help your child feel safe in order to hear truth. When our granddaughter Livy spent her first overnight at our home without her parents, we helped her find a place that felt safe by draping a blanket over a table and placing her sleeping bag and pillow beneath. At bedtime, she smiled broadly as she snuggled down inside.
Adoptive father Gregory C. Keck, Ph.D., who is also coauthor of Parenting the Hurt Child, Adopting the Hurt Child, author of Parenting the Adopted Adolescent, and founder of the Attachment and Bonding Center of Ohio, gives further insights about truth in an article on the EMK Press website titled "Talking Truthfully about Adoption":
One of the most important things in the world is truth. Truth allows for us to build relationships that we can rely on, that are predictable, that give us confidence, that allow us to love with our whole hearts, and to respect one another.
Truth is fundamental in building trust. A trusting relationship allows parents to gradually help their children and adolescents to achieve the ultimate separation and autonomy they will need to be successful, productive adults.
If parents expect truth from the child, then the child has every right to expect truth from his/her parents. And there should be no exceptions to this. Truth is truth and it could be ugly truth, beautiful truth, neutral truth—it doesn't matter.
Truth, by itself, will enhance connection to your child, and that should be the goal of every parent. Truth becomes the foundation for every other life task that occurs.
Your real desire is for your child to experience the love and security of a healthy family, but you also have needs, and it's all right to admit them. Remember, this book is for you. Because of the diversity of beliefs among this book's readers, I will not share my personal insights about the rich spiritual dimension of truth and the sweet spot here. If you would like to learn more about my personal beliefs, check out my website at www.sherrieeldridge.com.
Now imagine yourself like the mom standing outside the mountain's crevice. You're looking in. You want to know your child's heart language and I'll be inside the crevice, translating for you. Before long, you won't need me—you'll be fluent in the heart language of your adopted child.
At the end of every chapter I've included a section called "Listen to Your Child's Heart." I've written letters to you from an adopted child's perspective at various ages, beginning at infancy and extending into adulthood. The goal is to rekindle hope as you see that change can and does occur with time, even though there are never any guarantees. May your heart be encouraged as you broaden your adoption perspective by learning how your child may think and feel.
Listen to Your Child's Heart
"when i'm a baby, hold me close until my body molds to yours." When you hold me for the first time as a baby, if I arch my back and won't let you cuddle close to me, I'm not rejecting you. I'm hurting. I miss my first home—my birth mother's womb. Don't let the cycle of rejection begin. If you interpret my actions as rejection, then I'll sense that and I'll feel rejected. Hold me closely until I mold my body to you, even if I cry. This is what I need.
"when i'm in school, please be a 'warrior parent' for me." As a school-age child, I will be experiencing the repercussions of separation from my first family. I'll have fears of abandonment and rejection. Bullies at school will tease me about being adopted. I need you to be a "warrior parent" for me as I learn to live as an adopted kid in a nonadopted world. I'll begin to relax when I know you're seeking and speaking truth at all costs. Be my warrior parent by learning to speak my heart language and being willing to face the hard stuff about adoption. Help me learn to deal in healthy ways with the hurts of my past and I'll respond to your love.
"when i'm a teen, striving for independence, i'll see that you are always faithful." On the U.S. Marines' website, it states that the Marines are "the few, the proud." When I am older, this is how I will see you: committed, honorable, courageous, and always faithful. It is said of the Marines at www.marines.com:
There is a path that few consider, and few still have the courage to take. It leads to a place where being exceptional is not just encouraged, it's an absolute requirement. In order to lead the most elite military force in the world, you must take this path . . . The Marines also have a motto, "Semper Fidelis," which means "always faithful." It's more than a motto for the Marines; it's a way of life. That's you, Mom and Dad—semper fi—always faithful. As I spread my wings to become independent, I'll say thank you.
Draw Closer—Action Steps for Parents and Kids
Parents and Kids: Talk about the "Sweet Spot" of Truth for Your Family Go to http://pbskids.org/zoom/activities/sci/sweetspot.html for descriptions of "the sweet spot" and instructions for locating it on a bat or a tennis racket.
Then discuss the sweet spot as a family. Explain that just as the sweet spot on the tennis racket makes a ball go farther, when every family member tells the truth about adoption, that's the sweet spot that will cause you to grow closer as a family.
Have a family meeting and ask your child to tell you times when he's felt sad, mad, glad, or scared about adoption, such as:
• When I am at family get-togethers
• When I look at school pictures of my siblings who weren't adopted
• When I am in a new, strange place
• When my grandparents seem to be more loving to my nonadopted siblings than to me
• When others make fun of my skin being a different color from yours
Discuss these situations and come up with a nonverbal sign that your child can use to communicate that he's having big, overwhelming feelings. Here are some ideas:
• Thumbs down
• Time-out sign with hands
• Finger over lips (like shhhh)
Parents, enter the sweet spot with your children when they come to you with their perceptions and ask them what they need from you. Perhaps it could be:
• An affirmation: "I know it's hard at family gatherings"
• A hug from parents or siblings
• A special activity your child enjoys
Support Group Discussion Questions
1. How would you have defined successful adoptive parenting before reading this chapter? Use descriptive, powerful, one-word definitions. Then think of an example that illustrates your one-word (or several-word) definition.
2. How would you describe the sweet spot of success for yourself as a parent of an adopted child? Have you experienced it? If not, what might you do to find it?
3. Describe the difference between defining one's worth as a parent, or child, by performance instead of by personhood. How would both a parent and a child behave under each of these categories?
4. What do you need from the group before meeting again?
• Phone call
• Note of encouragement
• Lunch with a member of the group
• Mentoring from someone who has parented longer than you
• Wisdom from the group for the next step you should take in parenting Now that we've redefined success, let's talk about the wonderful new world you've entered—the world of adoption. You may have lived in this world for years and are now a seasoned parent, or you may just be entering it. Whatever your situation, there is always room to grow in learning to look at this new world with adoption savvy.
Excerpted from 20 Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed by Sherrie Eldridge. Copyright © 2009 by Sherrie Eldridge. Excerpted by permission of Delta, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.